It so happened, the other day, that I found myself surrounded by dinosaurs.
I was at the beach, seated on a tree trunk torn from its submerged forest: bleached in the morning heat. I was watching the surfers, bobbing in the ocean like black corks. But I soon was aware of scattered splashes – scintillating pops of water that excited the eye into finding their energetic source.
I found it quickly enough – pelicans: large and unbalanced oddities on land, mathematically graceful and superior when aloft. Yet, always possessing their terrifying, ancient profile. Their wings gently cupped the blue air as they circled around the rich and feeding sea. Then suddenly they disrupted their leisure and spun into a head-first dive, descending from the sky like feathered javelins. As the wind glittered through feathers stretched like fingers, wingspans of six feet bent at the wrist and elbow to create a hunter pulled irresistibly to the terrified, silver flocks beneath the water.
And when the sun illuminated the angled wings, the heat seemed to dissolve all flesh, revealing the memory of skeletons that once hunted beneath antediluvian skies. Miopelecanus, Protopelicans…dinosaurs that lifted themselves into the sky, blotting out a sun that was weary with creation, balanced over a cold horizon. Then, 30 million years ago, they fell – betrayed by evolution, witnessing through dying eyes the advent of future generations.
Millions of years earlier, reptilian scales reaped a soft harvest, growing into feathers. Bones and claws were smoothed and reformed within the privacy of smothering forests and canopies of trees so vast that the twilight seemed endless. No longer able to cope with the prepubescent world, the dinosaurs died – in the shadows of the freshly born skyward populations.
It’s sad to think of…however, tiny dinosaurs, carrying their ancient DNA like old photographs – survive and persist.
That same day, when I was able to turn from the ambushes launching into the water, I became aware of something behind me: microscopic avalanches of sand, pebbles startled into motion. I saw a shadow the size of my palm, alternately balancing and skipping across what must have seemed to it a country of hurdles and crevices. No view seemed to satisfy it; as soon as it stopped it set off on a different tangent, muscles and flesh contorting to create speed that blinked and confused.
Reptiles succeeded amphibians 300 million years ago, when the swamps suffocated in the gasping, thirsty air. They thrived in the sudden deserts that burst like fire throughout the ancient puzzle of continents. They undulated across the changing world, a population of dragons that sought the heat to bring their cold, turgid blood to a living boil. They bristled with a landscape of scales; a painted anthology of their past lives.
But as millennia passed, only their twisted skeletons remained, delicate intaglios pressed into ancient stones and forgotten mountains. Yet some escaped evolution’s deadly judgement. Including my friend at the beach, enjoying the warmth and letting the sun penetrate its fierce skin – as his ancestors had done.
I thought about those things that day. I thought about the chain of circumstance that brought me to the beach, under the same blistering star whose flames engulfed the bones of distant beasts and the arc of event and accident that brought new ones to my sight.